Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The white heat of 18th century technology (Britain's Got Brains)

This is the world's first equatorially mounted telescope, an exquisitely made object made by one of the most eminent clock and scientific instrument makers of the 18th century, Henry Hindley of York.

It is part of the historic collections of Burton Constable Hall, with whom Temple Newsam House and Leeds Museums and Galleries has a close working relationship. It has recently been at the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre so that Matthew Read, clocks programme tutor at West Dean College, could inspect and assess it for Burton Constable's curatorial team. It requires conservation treatment and will be a likely candidate for a PRISM grant.

Exquisitely made, one wonders how they were able to achieve such incredible fineness and accuracy. It was made to measure transits of heavenly bodies such as the moons of Jupiter, Venus etc. All part of the star mapping, astronomy, navigation, map-making endeavour, gentlemen scientists around the UK, such as William Constable, undertaking their observations and sharing them. It is missing its drive motor entirely, however. It would have been essentially a clock mechanism, weight driven, and pendulum controlled, that compensated for the rotation of the Earth, to allow the telescope to track the transit with the factor of the Earth's rotation removed from the equation. Telescopes of these types were mounted parallel to the equator.

Interesting fact: the cross-hairs on graticules of this period are made from spider silk. A graticule is simply a piece of thin glass with reference marks on it, usually a grid, in order to have fixed references to measure against. They are needed in telescopes and microscopes if one is trying to measure a distance, or movement. In the store at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre we had for a time together two items representing the white heat of 18th century technology, this telescope and the Harrison clock. They were both cutting edge stuff, the rocket science of that time, one for mapping the heavens, the other for precision timekeeping.

Harrison clock pictures courtesy of Jeff Darken.

Posted by Ian Fraser

A Little Treasure: Striking Ancient Coins

Have you ever wondered how the designs that we see every day on our loose change arrive there?

A small piece of metal (FLAN) is placed between two surfaces that have the designs engraved on them. These are known are DIES. There is an obverse die that has the design for the "front" of the coin on it, and a reverse die that has the "back" of the coin on it. The flan is put between them and hit very hard - this is called striking the coin. Nowadays the process is entirely mechanised and several coins can be struck in quick succession. But in the past the process was carried out entirely by hand. The design was engraved into the die by hand, the flan cut by hand and the flan was hammered between the dies to make a coin.

Easy-peasy you may think. However, in order for the design to appear the right way up, it had to be engraved backwards onto the die. This is fine for pictures and so on, but the majority of coins include inscriptions of one kind or another, and writing backwards, legibly and artistically, is very difficult to do indeed. Furthermore, it's not called striking the coin for nothing - quite a lot of force is needed for the impression to be made evenly on both sides of the coin. Mistakes can sometimes happen ...

Look carefully at this denarius. It is a double-strike.

What has happened here is that the flan was struck twice, but between strokes moved around several degrees on the die. The female figure is not meant to have two faces. She is Pietas, the personification of duty to the state and the gods, not Janus (famously two-faced) and god of thresholds. On the reverse, there is only meant to be one caduceus (two snakes wrapped around a single staff).

All double-strikes are unique. So nowhere else in the world is there another denarius like this one.

Yet, double-striking is a fairly common mistake to find on coins, both ancient and modern, so not much extra value is added to the piece. For me, an extraordinary amount of value is added as this small coin shows us that mistakes from the past can still be seen today. Ancient people weren't perfect and in 48 BC a moneyer working in Rome messed up the design on a coin. It didn't effect the value and I'm sure this coin was circulated, but it is a very tangible way of connecting with the past. After all, mistakes are only human!
Accession number: LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6137
Author: Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2010

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Lanuvium Marbles return to Leeds!

Five of Leeds City Museum’s star objects have just returned after being on display in an international exhibition for most of the year.

The Lanuvium marbles are a group of life-size torsos of Roman cavalrymen and horses dating to the 1st century BC. They were discovered in the ancient town of Lanuvium, 20 miles from Rome, in the 1880s. There would have been at least nine statues in the sculptural group, although we don’t know how they originally stood. They may have been commissioned to commemorate the victory of the Roman general Lucullus in Asia Minor in the Second Mithridatic War, and erected in Lanuvium, his home town.

The marbles were brought back to Leeds by Sir John Savile Lumley (later Lord Savile), who carried out excavations at various sites in Italy, including Lanuvium, while he was British Ambassador to Rome. He divided the archive of finds between Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society and the British Museum in London in 1896.

As well as marble statues we have about 750 other objects from Lanuvium in the Leeds Museums and Galleries collection.

Above: Three marbles on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery, Leeds City Museum.
The marbles have been on loan to the Musei Capitolini in Rome for their L’eta della conquista [The Age of Conquest] exhibition which ran from March until September 2010. In the exhibition they were reunited with 3 other sculptures from the Lanuvium group on loan from the British Museum.

Right: The marbles on display in the Capitoline Museum, Rome, Sept 2010

The marbles have just returned to Leeds City Museum after being carefully packed and crated up by a specialist moving company in Rome, and transported back to the UK.

You can now see five of the marbles on display in Leeds City Museum on either side of the main foyer stairs and in the Ancient Worlds gallery. Entry to Leeds City Museum is FREE.

Author: Katherine Baxter, Curator of Archaeology, Leeds Museums and Galleries

A Zoo in my Roman Pocket

Take the change out of your pocket or your purse and look carefully at it. What can you see? Some hind legs? A lion? A unicorn? If you look carefully at the coins in your pocket, you'll see a range of animals begin to emerge from the designs on them, but did you know that there were even more animals on Roman coins than there are on our own?

As part of my internship at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre I am working on cataloguing some of the Numismatics collections and have been photographing and identifying Roman Republic coinage from 78 BC to 37 BC. What has struck me as unusual are some of the animals shown on the coins. Roman moneyers often chose mythological motifs for the reverse side of their coins, and it is to these myths that many of the animals allude. For example, the Erymanthian boar below refers to the Fourth Labour of Hercules, where he had to capture this huge boar alive.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6264 REVERSE:

Some animals, however, symbolised places or deeds. The camel, for example, symbolised Arabia and this coin celebrated the surrender of King Aretas of Nabataea to Praetor M. Aemilius Scaurus. The camel is being held by the reins, but the figure holding onto it is also offering the camel an olive branch, showing conquest as well as peace.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6192 OBVERSE:

Some seemingly simple designs have a complicated story. Here we see a denarius with a girl facing a snake on the reverse. This refers to the practise within the worship of Juno Sospita at Lanuvium, where in order to ascertain how fruitful the coming year would be a girl was chosen who offered a cake to the snake at the temple. If the snake accepted the cake, it showed the girl was a virgin and augered well for the coming year. If the snake refused the cake, the reverse was true.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6222 REVERSE:

It is not just creatures from land that feature on Roman coins. Dolphins and seahorses are shown too. Both are associated with the god Neptune. On the coin below, Neptune is shown riding in a biga (chariot) drawn by seahorses.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6081 REVERSE:

In the next image the dolphin is shown next to an eagle. Here, the dolphin symbolises control over different realms, because the Romans realised that although dolphins swam in the sea, they breathed air, so were at home in two spheres. This is pertinent as the mint that produced the coin moved alongside the campaigns of Pompey. In March of 49 BC (when his coin was minted), Pompey had just fled from Caesar at Brudnisum, fleeing by sea to Epirus in Roman Greece. So by using the iconography of a dolphin, Pompey's mint puts on a show of control and fortune, that perhaps was absent in reality.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6245 REVERSE:

Lastly, and most surprisingly of all, is an image I found of a scorpion. (You can see it in the bottom left corner, underneath the horses' hooves.)

LEEDM.N1854.0038.6192 REVERSE:

I hope you've enjoyed a short tour of the zoo that could be found in the pocket of a Roman - quite a wealthy one I should add!

Author: Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries intern 2010

Cataloguing the Dalton Parlours archive

I have just completed a 6 week internship at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre cataloguing archaeological finds from Dalton Parlours, the site of a Roman villa near Wetherby. I have had the chance to handle a variety of interesting objects including glassware, pottery, and jewellery as well as different kinds of metal instruments and tools.

This internship has given me a valuable insight into the world of museums and galleries with particular emphasis on properly storing and caring for collections. What has struck me in particular is the vast number of objects that can be excavated from just one archaeological site but, as in the case of Dalton Parlours, only a tiny proportion of a collection actually goes on public display. Accessibility to museum stores and archives therefore allows the general public to understand and be aware of the importance of using collections for the purposes of research and education.

While at first glance some glass beads, a piece of pottery or an iron bucket handle may not immediately stand out as fascinating objects, these fragments were once part of a whole, be it a necklace, a large pot or an iron bucket, and were used by ordinary people on a daily basis. While working on the catalogue, I came across several pots that are in many pieces. When I found some pots that were mostly intact, it gave me a better understanding of the kinds of vessels used in everyday life during the period that Dalton Parlours was in use [200 - 370AD] and that each individual object has its own story.

A number of objects from Dalton Parlours are on display in Leeds City Museum. The remainder of the archive is housed in Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and can be viewed by appointment.

Vessel: LEEDM.D.2008.0001.274
Bucket handle: LEEDM.D.2008.0001.312

Author: Verity Smith, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2010

Friday, 8 October 2010

A Pierced Roman Coin

Over the past six weeks I have been cataloguing ancient and Medieval coins from the Baron and Edwards Collections at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and have come across some interesting finds. One Roman coin from the Baron Collection roused my curiosity as it bears a hole, suggesting it may have once had an ornamental function.

Coins were worn as jewellery from the inception of coinage. They were also nailed onto things, such as doors, to praise deities or act as talismans. The location of the hole in this coin, and the fact that it appears to have been pierced from the obverse side, could indicate several things. First, with the hole at the top (where it certainly would have been were it nailed or hanging) the obverse depiction (the head of Roma) is angled so that the goddess stares upwards rather than portraying the bust right-side-up as one might expect.

This suggests the purpose for wearing the jewellery was not purely display. It was worn, not for the status it brought, but for the meaning it held for the wearer and the protection it garnished from the diety praised by his or her depiction (who was made to look upon the wearer as a symbol of this protection). However, it was also clearly to be worn with the head of Roma displayed, a subject which held implicit pride for the city and state of Rome, but also elite social status associated with the priesthood of the Cult of Roma to which men aspired (and thus may have been a symbol of one belonging to the priesthood).

So, status symbol, protective talisman or a coin that simply held sentimental value for some reason or another? It is hard to say, but it is obvious from its filthy state that it was well-worn and, perhaps, well-loved.

Accession Number: LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6025

Author: Melody Flahr, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2010

Friday, 1 October 2010

Money, Scandal and a Sticky End: The Coins of Philip de Cambio

I recently finished cataloguing the Edwards Collection, which comprises a variety of classes of Henry III's long cross silver coinage, and discovered some interesting tidbits included by collector M. J. Edwards that had been untouched prior to my project. Two class Vg coins from this collection were minted by a certain Philip de Cambio [Philip of the Exchange], about whom there is a particularly interesting and tragic tale.

Philip de Cambio was a London moneyer whose end rather than his life is recorded in the Calendar of Patent Rolls (1272-81). Apparently Edward I took issue with another debasing the English coinage, as Philip had minted an issue of coins using 8 1/2d worth of copper instead of the standard 6d for every pound of pennies produced. Philip's dirty dealings won him a place on the executioner's 'stage' where he was hanged, drawn and quartered, along with his assayer William Harlewyn, who had accepted Philip's coins as legal tender. True to the workings of Medieval bureaucracy, however, the other assayer, Thomas de Brancestre, avoided being a part of the day's entertainment by claiming clerical status!
I should also mention that Edward I later used even more copper in his silver coinage than Philip had put in those he produced. These apparently debased coins are no different in appearance from the others of their class, but nonetheless carry a history of bloodshed.

This coinage is currently housed at the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre. It has been digitised along with the rest of the Edwards Collection and will soon be searchable on emuseum.

Accession numbers: LEEDM.N.1986.0001.034 and 035

Author: Melody Flahr, Intern for Leeds Museums and Galleries 2010